Among us walk the others

Meenu Anand looked at the old woman’s face with the detachment of someone observing an empty packet of Lays lying on the street-side. The old woman looked right back from within the notice which had begun to peel with time, its edges were already the smudgy yellow that indicates age.

But there was no way that the missing person’s notice in itself would have been more aged than the woman it portrayed.

Dakshayani(78)-the name was the key information which the notice gave, along with the woman’s height and the colour of the saree she wore at the time of disappearance. A number was given below which you were supposed to contact in case you came across this woman.

No rewards were mentioned. The woman has been “Missing since 18.6.2016”- just eight days ago.Since last Friday.

I took the train that day as well, thought Meenu.

Perhaps this old woman was also on that train-hoping that it would take her away from her familiar life forever- for whatever reasons, maybe because of a bad case of the daughter-in-law or maybe because her son locked her up in the dog kennel whenever he left for work-you know, so that she wouldn’t gossip about him and his wife to the neighbors, or one reason or another of the kind.

The sound of a train’s horn sounded from afar- a shrill noise which broke the relative silence of the dawn. It also broke Meenu’s gaze from the missing person’s notice. She walked to the platform where a scattering of people- mostly those who worked at offices in Trivandrum, were ready to start another commute to keep the wheel of life rolling.

As she walked, Meenu felt her thighs rubbing against each other.

Though she kept her eyes to the floor, out of the corner of those eyes, she was looking out at those around her-to see if they were snickering, at how her thighs rubbed against each other. Of course, they had no way of knowing that- all they saw was an obese young woman in a brown salwar kameez who walked with difficulty- for whom the few steps from the ticket counter to the lone platform of the small railway station offered quite a distance to cover.

Maybe they would stand and stare as I make the ‘ascent’ up the train’s steps, she thought as the train drew up to the platform- the same thing that she thought of every working day at around this time.

As the train moved away, she looked out of the window. Her eyes fell on all the missing persons notices that have covered almost an entire wall near the ticket booth.

It’s hard to imagine that all of them had run away. The old woman-Dakshayani was an exception in that most of the missing were young-mostly women, and also some men-almost all of them in their twenties.

It’s hard to imagine why all of them would run away, thought Meenu. She was in her early twenties herself- in their age bracket.

And I would like to run away, she thought, provided there was a place to run away from my body.

**

The train was now passing one of the tranquil lakes that flanked the small town of Kappil near Varkala.

Meenu-who worked as an assistant accountant in an ad agency in Trivandrum liked these places that the train passed through.The tranquil sceneries made for a soothing prelude to the hectic work which awaited her at work every day. The agency had three divisions-advertising, photography and branding, and for tax evasion purpose the agency’s owner: one of Meenu’s father’s friends had registered multiple companies each handling a different division of the agency.

This wasn’t exactly Wall Street stuff but it certainly made life tedious for Meenu and the senior accountant- an elderly woman with a permanent migraine.

So, yes, she did try to derive as much peace from the shimmering surface of the lake-early though it was, the sun was already shedding enough light to make the water glitter like liquid ornament.

But something was disturbing her peace today-something tugged at the corners of her mind, asking for her immediate attention, urging her to take her eyes off from the lake. And she did follow the sense of something being off, and soon found the source for that ‘offness.’

He was a young chap-19 or 20 year old.

He sat diagonally opposite to her. He shared a long seat with a balding elderly man who was reading the newspaper- “Rupee dips another point!” was one of the main headlines visible on the front page, and a young woman-who much like Meenu sat with a handbag clasped to her chest, though she was asleep- a working woman.

The young chap sat at the far end of the seat but he had his eyes on  Meenu. And as Meenu saw, he wasn’t just looking at her. He was leering- eyeing her from top to bottom, letting his eyes linger at her breasts and her crotch before moving on. And when  the eyes came back to rest on her face, he licked his lips, a pink tongue smothering saliva on the most reddish lips that Meenu has ever seen on a man.

Disgusted, she looked away. The train was now passing by another branch of the backwaters, and between the myriad trees that lined the shore and the wide open sky she could find plenty of space for calm reflection.

But calm wasn’t what she felt. She felt disgusted. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone has looked at her in such a gross manner. In fact, she couldn’t remember anyone looking at her like that.

And with that thought came the next one-perhaps inevitable but which Meenu didn’t see coming: she has never been looked at with lust by a man before.

Her genetic condition has predisposed her body towards obesity from a very young age- and from a very young age, she has seen her body as an object to be ashamed of, and in her adult life, hardly a day has gone by without being conscious of the lack of interest(if she was lucky) or the disgust(that’s almost always) with which people looked at her.

She wished she would get old faster- it’s better to be old and reviled than be young and reviled.

It could be a stretch to call the young chap a man- his body language and expressions were befitting the dude that he was than any man. But still the look that he gave her was one of the deepest lust that any man would feel for an attractive woman.

Attractive woman, Meenu rolled that phrase over in her mind, trying it out for size.

Beside herself, she felt the edge of her mouth quivering-just a little, a quiver of smile. Alongside the disgust, a tentative pleasure- at being the object of fascination for a man, no, dude younger to her, rose in her mind.

But when she hesitantly looked in his direction again, she found that he was gone.

**

The young chap with the lewd look kept intruding her thoughts throughout the day- while she was double-checking the previous month’s accounts receipts of a client, while having lunch(just two thin chappathis and dal curry), while walking to the railway station in the evening and also while waiting for the train. She took the same memu train to and from work in the morning and the evening.

So,perhaps I might run into him again in the evening, she found herself thinking.

The train arrived and she got in. Once she has settled down in a seat, she looked around-searching for the face which even though she has seen just once was imprinted on her retina. There was no way that she would go without recognizing him if her eyes fell on him again. But he wasn’t here, not in this compartment.

She knew that that didn’t mean that he wasn’t in the train.

Maybe he would come to this compartment sooner or later- all the bogies in the train had open passageways that led to the next carriage, maybe, he would go through all the compartments(except for the one reserved for the ladies which was at the far end), he would come looking for me.

“Stop it!” she muttered under her breath, admonishing herself for acting so girly-girly like.

Being a sole child to her parents, she was generally considered as a spoilt brat: none of her relatives said that to her face, but they didn’t have to for her to know. And for that reason, she did everything in her power to be less of a spoilt girl- dressed in subdued colors that only old people wore, rarely entertained thoughts of romance(such thoughts were the girliest of all, weren’t they?) and never really had a liking for animated movies with cute creatures which all girl-women liked.

No, I shouldn’t keep thinking like this, about some chap!

The train was marginally more crowded during the return trip than in the morning-what with the return train falling in the right  time slot for many an office worker-unlike in the morning when it’s too early for most of the people in the government service.

When the train reached the Varkala railway station, almost all of the people in her carriage  got off,but there was no one to hop in.

Meenu always enjoyed the ride from this point on-when there would be only a minimal number of people around-now, for instance, apart from her, the only other person she could see in her vicinity was a tired looking old man who was lying stretched out on a seat, snoring lightly.

The lack of people meant she didn’t have to be too conscious about whether anyone was looking at her or not, giving her the sympathy eye.

India-with its crowded streets and bazaars is so not the place for a hyper-self conscious obese woman to live, she has thought many times.

With much difficulty, she tucked her legs under her thigh, leaning towards the window she gazed at the moonlit landscape the train passed by. Occasionally, the dark would be lit by yellow light from some house- the lives inside of which Meenu would wonder about. Was there an obese person living in that particular house, for instance? And if yes, did she find the simple act of climbing the stairs of a building as much of a task as Meenu did- Meenu have to climb a flight of stairs every day in the office building to reach work. Was that person also as aware of the ugliness of her body as she was?

The night, it seemed held no answers as the train rushed by one home after the other.

“Hello”

She was startled by the voice that spoke in the dark(the part of the carriage she sat in was covered in darkness since the bulb above didn’t work). But even in the haziness of the dark, she could make out his blue yes.

He stood looking at her, a perfect row of white teeth the sign of a smile. She could make out the faint outline of a manga character that was on his t-shirt: the same one he wore in the morning. Whatever light spilled from the nearest lit bulb wasn’t strong enough to let her see the colour of the pair of jeans that he wore. But if she were to guess, she would say blue-she hadn’t noticed which colour in the morning.

She noticed that he was panting-not loud enough for it to be heard over the rumbling sound of the train on the tracks, but now that she had her attention solely on him, she could sense it.

“I have been looking for you all along,” he said. “I was afraid that you may have gotten down at Varkala-everyone gets down at the Varkala station, it seems.”

Meenu smiled, though there was no big joke in what he said. She smiled because of the words he used- looking for you all along..like they have known each other for a long while.

There was nothing of the morning’s lewd stare in his face now, Meenu noticed. And when he spoke, it was in the friendliest of tones.

Meeenu listened in silence as he said how he has started travelling in this train just the other week- his family moved here recently, and how he noticed her a few days ago, and he knew that he was in love with her that first time itself.

Meenu listened, captivated, every hair on her body standing up in thrall of the words that were being spoken-words which she had thought no one would ever tell her. “I couldn’t sleep properly because I didn’t see you yesterday…woke up early today so I wouldn’t miss the train..” these and other words she heard as though she was in a dream.

Even the snoring of the old man who lied asleep in a nearby seat-which rose with the passage of time and punctuated all the pauses in the dude’s speech(the dude, by the way, introduced himself as Kaushik) didn’t do anything to break the illusion of a dream for Meenu.

Finally, as the Mayyanad station drew nearer and she said she must down there,  Kaushik said, “So, what’s your name?”

After the briefest hesitation, she told him.

**

Exchanging of mobile numbers, murmuring in to mouthpieces deep into the night, a few evenings at an ice cream parlor(though Meenu didn’t particularly liked ice-cream she didn’t tell him so-she enjoyed watching him enjoy the ice cream a lot for that)..these and other ‘usuals’ found in the itinerary of the ones-newly-in-love made their way to Meenu’s and Kaushik’s budding romance as well.

And one day, just over a month after Kaushik stated his love to her-in so unselfconscious a manner that she still got goosebumps thinking of it, Kaushik decided to take things ‘to the next level’ by inviting her to his home.

‘I was not a good student. I did a certification course in smartphone repair, and I am going to the gulf- Dubai next month. I am waiting for the visa now,’ these words just about sums up the extent of knowledge she had about her lover.

So when he asked her to ‘come over to my place this Saturday’ the first thing she said was, “But you still live with your parents, don’t you?” Living with parents when you are unmarried in Kerala is synonymous with having no sex-life, or so hopes the parents.

“Yes, but they are going away for the weekend- a relative is in the hospital, doctors say he will probably die. Papa and mama are very close to the person, not me- so I am not going,” he said it without much emotion, though there was an earnestness in his eyes which made Meenu fall in love again.

He wants me, he wants me, he wants me…

Sex wasn’t something that she frequently thought about-not because she was averse to the idea-she was 23 after all, but because of the fact(perceived fact) that such thoughts rarely led anywhere. As for a marriage, she had always assumed that she would get married to a man who is obese like her. And though she found it improper to consider obese people as less than attractive compared to those who don’t have to wear plus size, she couldn’t help it- especially considering just how ‘perfect’ Kaushik was- with his face like a chiseled sculpture and those deep blue eyes, holding in them all the beauty of a bright summer day, and the smile that would simply break the heart with its staggering beauty. No, such a face would never be that of an obese person, she made the clinical observation once again before accepting his invitation with a monosyllable: yes.

**

Kaushik’s house was near the banks of a lake-the same one which Meenu would gaze at mesmerized during her trips in the train in the mornings. The lake’s water shimmered in the bright glow of the sun-it was almost 10 now.

He had picked her up from the Kottiyam junction in a blue Maruti Alto(“Belongs to my father,” he said). She had told her parents that she had to attend a colleague’s wedding in Trivandrum. (“Someone is going to pick me up from Kottiyam.” She had told them that since they live a bit away from the highway, it would be hard for her friend who is gonna pick her up to find their home. “I might as well go to Kottiyam to make things easier for them.” Meenu had never given the parents any reason to be suspicious of her activities- as a student, she went to college, came home and that’s it- would tell them even if someone made a lewd comment at her on the way; as an employee, they expected her to behave much in the same way. )

The house was a simple one-storied affair: terraced with a balcony and a small garden in the front, a garden which had roses and lilies in plentiful numbers. A coconut tree that stood on one corner leaned into the house as though it wished to whisper something in the house’ ear.

Ever since her father took her and her mother for a picnic to the Shasthamcotta lake(she was just 4 then), she had always wanted to live near the shore of one- for one thing, not many people lived in such places, she had noticed. And another thing was that such things as the shimmering water and the cool breeze from the lake were non-judgmental: they wouldn’t care what colour your skin was or how much money you made or how fat or thin you were.

She felt that Kaushik was lucky to be living at such a place. The nearest home that she could see was some distance away, perched deep within a coconut grove that looked like it exists solely to hide the small house from any prying eyes. And the house was out of earshot as well, she noticed.

On one of their trips together in the train, Koushik had told her that he was a great lover of music. “I have a pair of giant speakers which I got assembled when father gave me some money on my 16th birthday. That was when father got a pay revision”(his father was a  bus driver with the state road transport department). “And whenever I am home, I will play some music on the speakers. The speakers are placed in such a way that they face the windows, so it’s like there is a concert going on.”

Seeing how far away the nearest inhabitants lived, Meenu could see how that’s well possible.

Pulling out a long key from his jeans pocket, he opened the door to the house.

Inside was more or less what Meenu had expected: a showcase which was largely filled with stuffed dolls and miniature trains-memorabilia from Kaushik’s childhood, took up almost an entire wall at the very top of which hung a picture of Lord Krishna playing his flute standing in front of a cow that had it’s admiring eyes turned towards the god. Adjacent to the showcase was a stand on which stood a plasma television-she had thought that since Kaushik was such a music nut he would be more savvy about electronic gadgets and so would have a wall-hanging type of TV at home.

Maybe he would have it when he moves away from his parent’s place and has his own home, she thought.

But that was the only thing that she found contrary to her expectations. Everything else-the three piece sofa set that faced the television, the book stand on the corner on which was a religious book- the Bhagavatham, perhaps or the Ramayana-she couldn’t see the cover from this distance, and the rectangular carpet on the floor from which the colour was fading-all pertained to her notion  of what the living room of a middle-class home should look like.

And the same could be said about the bedroom- though this was the first time that she was inside a man’s bedroom(as much as the boyish Kaushik could be termed a man). A crumpled up shirt was on the bed which had a crumpled sheet on it. A black pair of shorts hung from the wardrobe door, Meenu imagined that the piece of clothing was peeping at the room from over the door, like someone would peer over a wall. She smiled at the thought.

And there, as he has said, facing the open windows was a twin set of speakers which were connected to a music player on the table.

Meenu didn’t know much about speakers-she only heard any music when there was music in a show or a movie she was watching on the television, and she watched the television only when she had nothing else to do. So the only fact about the speakers that made a huge impression on her mind was that they were huge-even though they were placed on the floor, they came almost up to her shoulder(she was 5 feet 2) and each of the speakers were as broad..well, almost as broad as her body.

So, the sound that comes from them must be huge, she imagined.

“Can you play some music in your favourite speakers?” she said, smiling at him.

He moved towards her with an agility that surprised her. Before she knew it, he was by her side, whispering into her ear, “Not now. Now, we have something more interesting than music!”

They moved to the bed- he on top of her(how else could it be?), While kissing her, he pushed the crumpled shirt that was lying on the bed. It fell off the edge without a sound.

The love-making was fast but intense. Meenu felt pain for the first few moments but just as she was about to ask him to take it slow, the pain subsided and a tinkling of joy welled up inside her-a mingling of both physical and spiritual pleasures.

He wants me, he wants me, he wants me..

She welcomed the explosion of semen within her-not caring that he hadn’t worn a rubber, deciding in that instant that she would buy an after-pill(she would have him buy it for her-she would give him the money, she didn’t think she would be bold enough to ask for one at the medical store).

They lied panting together, almost rhythmically. Smiling, he licked the sweat off of her face. “Would you like some water to drink?” he said.

She shook her head. “I just want to lie here beside you, for a long long time..perhaps till the end of time.”

She lied beside him, feeling his breath on her cheek, the blackness of sleep which covered her eyes felt sweet.

**

Bang!Bang! bang! Bang!

Meenu didn’t know that the guitar could sound so loud- the bass felt more like grenades exploding on a battle field than anything musical.

But it wasn’t the sound of the loud music that brought her awake- though by all means the music which was loud enough to wake up an entire neighbourhood-had there been a neighbourhood would have been enough to bring her out from the deepest of sleep.

No, what had her out of sleep and sitting up in the bed, her dangling heavy breasts making her stoop with their weight, was something else. Something more physical than the experience of sound waves.

It was pain-she realized. Pain that was coming from her left thigh, at a point not much farther from her vagina. The world began to spin for her, not because of the pain but because of what she saw was inflicting the pain.

“Kaushik!Kaushik!” she shouted at the top of her voice. But of course, even the shrillest voice she could produce was not enough to beat the sound of the music that issued from the giant speakers.

Not that there was any need for loud music to bring Kaushik to her assistance.

For he stood not more than a few feet away from her, near the door- this she saw when in her panic, she looked around. Only, Kaushik didn’t look like he was too keen on helping her. Arms pressed to either side of his body, he stood looking at her with eyes devoid of emotion.

No, he wasn’t actually looking at her. His eyes were on the creature that was feeding on her-with its androgynous face and the four small tentacles which grew from its body(at least, they looked like tentacles to Meenu), the creature wasn’t exactly something one could keep admiring. Yet, that was what Kaushik was doing-admiring, as the smile on his lips revealed.

“Help!” Meenu managed to say before the creature crawled further up her body and clamped two of its tentacles around her neck, cutting off the prospect of any more sound coming from her mouth before a long s pointed tooth protruded from the creature’s mouth, which it punctured her forehead. The puncture didn’t kill her, only made her feel sedated.

As the vile thing began to feed on her breasts, the pain only felt like a dull throb to her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kasuhik, his arms clasped, looking at the feeding creature with piety.

**

They have been among us for a few decades now- some might say they are the next step in evolution, others that they are a deviant offshoot of the human race. Whether they were the result of some experiment gone wrong, a mutation caused by nuclear radiation or something else, no one is sure. What everyone who knows about them seems to agree upon is that creatures this vile shouldn’t have been born by nature’s design- surely there has to be human intervention to bring about such a thing!

Almost as though the irony of us giving rise to our own end is too irresistible for us.

Perhaps more fearsome that the fact that they like to feed on human flesh is the fact that they can go without a meal for months..sometimes for up to an year. And I believe that even more fearsome is the fact that they could ‘enslave’ someone, make them do their bidding-to bring them flesh when they want.

This, of course means that they are no mere animals- they have strategy and independent thinking. They have powers of the mind-assuming it’s mind that they have, which are beyond human comprehension.

I for one can make such objective notes only once in a while- for most of the times I feel like I am drugged- that’s how it is under their influence. I have noticed that one full moon nights, the weight of their presence is felt less in my mind, and it’s on such nights that I remember my past-and hear the dying words of my mother as she lay screaming under the beast- “Kaushik, run! run!”

I didn’t run. I was petrified with fear. And the beast brought me here one night, to this house which I don’t know whom it belong to.

Nonetheless, it’s all in the past. And for an introduction of myself, I guess that should do. For it’s about the beast that I must speak.

God only knows I have stayed in compliance for long enough- and this full moon night I am feeling strong enough to write down as much as I can about them. This story is going to sound crazy to anyone who might read this.

So, I should try and get pictures of the beast, as proof.

It’s only on nights like this that I have sense enough to act independently- and tonight, my mind is feeling stronger and  fresher than ever-almost like in the older days before the beast. So this has to be the  night when I attempt to take the picture.

The world needs to know about this.

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